Dear Barb—Time: Less Friends

Dear Barb:

I am a middle-aged woman who is married with three adult children.  I work long hours in a busy, fast-paced environment, so I do not have a lot of extra time.  Any free time that I do have I like to spend it with my family and friends.  However, I have a work colleague who I briefly chat with at work, but she is asking me to have dinner and a coffee and get together socially outside of work.  She has a business and I fear she might be trying to get me involved and I am not interested.  She is nice enough, but I am too busy and don’t have time for my own friends, let alone a new friend.  How do I tell her that I don’t want to get together outside of work without having it negatively impact our work relationship?  

Thanks, Judith.

Hi Judith:

That is a great question.  You didn’t mention whether she is a new friend, or if you have socialized with her in the past and don’t want to continue.  It’s difficult to decline social invitations, but when your plate is full, then you have no alternative but to decline or you will be disappointing someone else.  Of course, you must keep your social/work relationships cordial and friendly, and sometimes boundaries are necessary to accomplish this.

You said you believe she may be trying to get you involved in her business, perhaps you can start there.  The next time she brings up the business, clearly state that you are not interested, but be polite and friendly.  You could say, “I admire your energy, but that is not something I could do at this point it my life, as I am too busy.  In fact, I barely have time for my family and friends.” If her goal is clearly to get you involved in her business, she most likely will not pursue getting together socially.  However, if she does suggest again that you get together socially, you could mention that you may have time for a quick coffee after work.  This way you are not jeopardizing your relationship, but rather are making it clear that your time is limited.  You could also tell her that you would love to, but your calendar is pretty full, and you will let her know when you have time to get together.  Continue to be friendly with her at work, and if you can, enjoy a quick coffee and chat, but keep it light, don’t share a lot of personal information.  It’s a fine line, but you have to choose your priorities.  Thank you for your excellent letter, Judith.

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